(Trans)forming Gender Regimes in Saudia Arabia: Intersecting Social Norms

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    This article explores how gender and religious norms intersect in structuring organising processes and practises related to women’s integration in the labour force in Saudi Arabia. Religion-based social norms—broadly described as not harming the public image, society’s values and being Sharia compliant—remain a persistent factor in shaping workplace inequality. Drawing on two focus groups and 33 semi-structured interviews with firm owners, managers and government representatives in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, this research explores how managers have navigated the process of organising to integrate female employees. This article makes an original contribution to the theorisation of the material and discursive mechanisms that persist in justifying organisational gender regimes in Saudi Arabia. The findings show that the normative structure of gender and associated differences are perceived as legitimate by some due to their anchoring in Sharia principles, making changes in the bases of inequality difficult and contentious. Managers adopted three organising principles—you have to dance (norms as practise), playing it safe (inhabiting the ‘ideal’) and this is not a party (norms as ‘law’)—to make sense, negotiate, and give effect to these norms. The complex intersection between the culturally embedded understanding of norms as ‘law’ and norms as normativity functions as a key mechanism in the (trans)formation of organisational gender regimes, shedding a critical light on how inequalities become entrenched in workplace cultures and interactions.
    Original languageEnglish
    Publication date2022
    Number of pages21
    Publication statusPublished - 2022
    EventThe WU Gender and Diversity Conference 2022: Diversity, Diversity Management and Intersectionality in a Global Context - Dynamics and Realignments - Vienna University of Economics and Business, Wien, Austria
    Duration: 24 Mar 202225 Mar 2022


    ConferenceThe WU Gender and Diversity Conference 2022
    LocationVienna University of Economics and Business
    Internet address


    • Gender regimes
    • Intersectionality
    • Islam
    • Organising
    • Religion
    • Social norms

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